Observations by Mary Latela July 26, 2015
Book Reviews count very heavily these days. Reviews ahead of publication are, at best, speculative. After the flurry around the debut of Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman: A Novel (HarperCollins), July 14, 2015, I decided to see what “reviewers” were saying.
My passion for this endeavor came after an unpleasant realization after I read, reviewed, and read other reviews of Toni Morrison’s very powerful God Help the Child, published earlier this year. Morrison, according to some, had not written her best. The fault seemed to lie, not in the stars, but in Ms. Morrison’s shift in structure, a bit too much of a challenge for some, I suppose. In addition, her setting is the present, another difference from the rest of her work. I read the book and found it powerful. I got it. I understood the deeper meaning under the simple story – two very neglected/abused adults colliding. How would they deal with their renewed hopelessness?
I have not yet read every one of Morrison’s books, but enough to accept her as a towering literary figure whose work is filled with rich prose, vivid characters, and profound imagination. In addition, the award of the Novel Prize in Literature says a great deal. I began to notice that some of her reviewers were very young. I am not ageist, but I think that they wanted advice from Morrison. From whom else do you ask advice beside a healthcare professional or agent? I imagine she wrote the novel because it was in her heart and mind to write it and not as a guidebook for followers. Saying, “The novel did not leave me contented” or “The novel did not help me to write my novel” is not really relevant. In my case, the novel left me deeply troubled because the theme is so prevalent.
I will be reading Go Set a Watchman for myself. I have noted that, so far, the reviewers quote from one another. One reviewer used the adjective “failure.” Even a seasoned reviewer claimed that this is not really a novel and certainly would not be published if the author’s name had been Jane Smith.
Do we expect the work of an elder author to bump along like a freight train, spilling a tale similar to the legendary To Kill a Mockingbird? Do we expect that the down-home language of the South would be used in the same way now, so many decades after the turbulent 1960s? Are we surprised (in advance) that Calpurnia may have changed? Do we want everything to be the way it appeared when Atticus Finch was in this prime, and when Gregory Peck WAS Atticus Finch? Time marches on, pardon the cliché.
Should we not celebrate that the same person who created the characters who shape the experience of middle-school kids even today has given permission for the publication of Go Set a Watchman! Concerning provenance, we ought to remember that we are not appraising an antique desk, but perhaps another living testimony to the power of the pen.
I plan to read, perhaps to compare, but to richly, slowly read this novel. I thank Harper Lee for the courage to present her work to a very hungry and often judgmental public. I have nothing further to add until I finish reading the book.